The Game Boy Advance is set to get serious competition at last, with Nokia taking the wraps off a new device called the N-Gage – a handheld console styled mobile phone which is designed specifically to act as a challenge to Nintendo’s dominance of the market.
The new device, which looks superficially similar to the GBA but bears an attractive brushed metal finish and is bristling with buttons thanks to the requirements of functioning as a mobile phone, will be introduced in February 2003, and games for it will be distributed on solid state memory cards – much like the GBA or GP32 units.
As one might expect, a key selling point for the N-Gage will be online and multiplayer functionality. The system will carry a Bluetooth chip, enabling wireless multiplayer gaming over short distances, and Nokia is talking up the possibilities of gaming over the mobile phone networks.
Although the N-Gage is certainly the most serious challenger yet to the GBA, with both the Neo Geo Pocket Colour and the GamePark GP32 being niche interest units at best, and the WonderSwan Colour still unreleased in the west, it remains to be seen just how much of an impact the device will have. Software support remains a concern, although Sega has already signed on to create games for the device, and if Nokia gets the publishing revenue models on the system right, it may well win widespread support from publishers concerned by the tight margins on the GBA.
Perhaps most worrying of all, though, is the fact that the device will have zero impact in the Japanese market – and thus probably very little support from Japanese developers. Japan operates an entirely different mobile phone system to the rest of the world, and Nokia’s devices do not function there. While this is not a problem for conventional phones, it may well turn out to be a major hurdle for this hybrid console and phone to overcome.